Seven more days till… Halloween 4 : The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

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“Apocalypse, End of the World, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two. Too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”

- Jack Sayer, while sharing a drink with Sam Loomis.

After the bold box office failure that was Halloween III : Season of the Witch, the producers of the series scrambled to get their golden goose back on track. While the idea of a Myers-less Halloween had seemed like a brave idea, the films’ financial and critical disappointment was a hard pill to swallow.
One thing was for sure : audiences wanted more Michael Myers!

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Rushed to release to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the now-classic original, Halloween 4 continued the trend of many behind the scenes voices guiding the direction of the films. John Carpenter and Debra Hill were initially brought on to return the film to its roots, with Carpenter as writer/director and Hill once again as producer. Carpenter teamed up with horror author Dennis Etchison to pen a script, and the wheels were in motion for Michael’s murderous return to his hometown.

According to Etchison, the story would have followed a more “supernatural” storyline, which seems in line with Carpenter’s original plans for the series. In an interview, Etchison says, “Halloween was banned in Haddonfield and I think that the basic idea was that if you tried to suppress something, it would only rear its head more strongly. By the very attempt of trying to erase the memory of Michael Myers, the teenagers were going to ironically bring him back into existence.”

Making a name for himself under the psuedonym Jack Martin, Etchison had already penned the novelizations for Halloween 2 and 3.  Teaming with Carpenter for a new vision of The Shape seemed to be an excellent idea, but something went very wrong behind the scenes. The producers quickly rejected the script for being “too cerebral”, and this rejection led to Carpenter and Hill leaving the project (and ultimately the series), selling their interest in Halloween for good.

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With producer Moustapha Akkad finally taking ownership of the rights and complete control over the direction of the series, he set about constructing his ideal sequel, bringing in director Dwight H Little and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy. With a writer’s strike looming, the script was completed in just eleven days, and ultimately gave us what Akkad refers to as “the most successful” of the Halloween films.

While it might have been the most successful financially, the film itself is not without it’s problems. For one thing, scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is nowhere to be seen (other than a few keepsakes and photos), and the focus is suddenly shifted to her orphaned daughter when we learn that Laurie died in a tragic car accident years before.

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Her daughter Jamie Lloyd, played by fresh-faced future scream queen Danielle Harris, is living with an adopted family, blissfully unaware of her murderous uncle. In an exposition-heavy opening scene, we see Michael Myers making his move for freedom during an ill-advised patient transfer in the middle of a rainy night on the eve of Halloween.

Donald Pleasence is back in pursuit, with some minor burn scars from being exploded way back in part 2, more frantic than ever as he makes his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis knows that Michael is “evil on two legs”, and goes above and beyond the call of duty to stop him.

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The problem is that everything feels so rushed and contrived, and we as an audience are asked to just accept some odd connections and motivations. The family connections never sat well with me in the first place, as I always preferred the original version of Myers as an unstoppable unexplainable killing machine. The afterthought addition first introduced in part 2 connecting Laurie and Michael always seemed forced to begin with, and the rushed explanation of Laurie’s death in this sequel are jarring and honestly kind of offensive. So, we are supposed to believe that our sweet “final girl” immediately got knocked up after getting out of the hospital, then died unceremoniously in a random car accident?

But, if you can let all of that go, there are some fun thrills and kills to be had in this sequel, as Michael rampages his way back home, and a group of hicks, teenagers and cops team up with ol’ Doc Loomis to fight him off. The late 80s teenager characters are charming and it is fun to watch them get murdered. Danielle Harris is great as little Jamie, and Pleasence rants and raves with the best of them. The climactic scenes are fantastic, as Jamie and her adopted sister scramble to escape Michael on a rooftop, then lead him to his dramatic death, shot to bits by rednecks and lost down a mine shaft.
The final scenes are also excellent and one of the only unique ideas in the whole film, as somehow Michael transfers his evil to his niece, and we see her murder her adoptive mother with a pair of scissors in a nice first person homage to the original. Also, Loomis’ reaction here is priceless, as he instantly draws his gun and breaks down with frustration just before the credits roll.
It is unfortunate that this story thread was unceremoniously abandoned in the next film, as it could have made for an interesting new take on the mythology.

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Overall, Halloween 4 is a fun watch with a really good cast. While the tone is inconsistent at times and some shots are jarringly strange (how did no one notice the Myers mask had blonde hair in that school scene?), it definitely gives those who were clamoring for more Michael after part 3 what they wanted. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything revolutionary, but is a solid slasher sequel that cemented Michael Myers as a true icon of modern horror.

This new edition collected in the box set unfortunately contains no special features, and has a strange audio sync issue about halfway through the film. Anchor Bay has offered up replacement discs to those who bought the set early and have since promised the discs will be corrected.
Although this disc is the sparsest, not even offering any feature commentaries, the new set does come with a bonus disc which contains two documentaries about the making of the fourth film. (FYI the bonus disc is packaged with Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, so purists might not even be aware where to find it!)


Eight more days till… Halloween III : Season of the Witch (1982)

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“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

- Commercial announcer, Halloween III

Categorized as either a huge failure or a bold experiment, depending on individual points of view, the second sequel in the Halloween franchise quickly followed just a year after part 2.
For all intents and purposes, Michael Myers was dead for good, his eyes shot out and his body burned to death along with Dr. Loomis in the finale of the second film.
The filmmakers were done with Myers as well, and this sequel proposed an ambitious new plan to make the “Halloween franchise” into a yearly anthology series of films focusing on a new storyline involving the holiday and new characters in each incarnation.
In fact, John Carpenter and Debra Hill are credited only as producers this time around, although their fingerprints and ideas are all over the finished film. Director Tommy Lee Wallace credits Hill with the original idea of “pod people”, even though he is solely credited as the writer of the film. In truth, Wallace was merely one of many who had his hand in this script, beginning with reknowned science fiction novelist Nigel Kneale. After the producers rejected Kneale’s script for unspecified reasons, Carpenter and Hill jumped in, and Wallace did a final polish before taking on the reigns of director.

Of course the biggest black mark against Halloween 3 is that our favorite masked madman Michael Myers is nowhere to be seen (unless you count the cameo he makes on the TV screen in the bar, meta before meta was cool). But, as the creators contended, Myers was dead, his story was told, and the time had come to move on to something fresh and different. If Carpenter had gotten his way, every year would have brought us a new Halloween-centric film with a new plot and new characters, and we would be celebrating over thirty years of innovative film-making right now.
But sadly, it was not to be.
Halloween 3 was a huge disappointment to fans of Michael Myers, and they were in the vocal majority at the time of the release, ultimately killing this experimental film in its opening weekend.

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Halloween 3 starts off a week before the titular holiday, where after an awe-inspiring (for the early 80s) digitized pumpkin shows off the credits, we witness the horrible untimely death of shop owner Harry Grimbridge. Grimbridge mutters “They’re going to kill us all” while clutching a children’s Halloween mask as he is being admitted to the hospital, and later is murdered in his hospital bed by a mysterious man.

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His doctor Daniel Challis (played with manly gusto by Tom Atkins) is drawn into the mysterious death, partly due to the arrival of the dead man’s attractive young daughter, Ellie (cutie Stacey Nelkin). The pair’s investigation leads them to a small company village in northern California called Santa Mira (named after the town in Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and they start to realize something big is going down right in time for the horrific holiday.

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A sci-fi throwback with a cruel streak a mile long, it is easy to see why audiences didn’t immediately connect with this material, especially when they were expecting a “knife movie” and got a weird little “pod movie”. As the mystery is revealed slowly and deliberately, the bad guy (played with relish by Dan O’Herlihy) lays out his sinister plan for world domination via party masks in long monologues like an overconfident Bond villain.

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The bleak ending is unique for its time, and for any film really. Although in a later interview, star Tom Atkins says that he thinks his character finally accomplished his mission and stopped the insidious commercial from infecting the minds of masked children everywhere. This overly hopeful outlook is not the way most audiences see it however, as the ambiguous ending suggests that the bad guys actually won and turned the heads of all the children of the world into mushy nests of insects and snakes.

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As always, when looking back at these older films, it is important to keep in mind the huge changes in the world over the intervening thirty years or so. At the time, all of the major horror franchises that we now consider classics were just in the beginning stages. Satanic panics and rumors of teenage cult memberships were considered realistic threats to society. Halloween, the holiday, was at its peak in popularity and trick-or-treaters were everywhere, despite the underlying strangeness of the customs. Technology was new and scary. All of these elements make their way into the film, and work in varying degrees then and now.

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The Silver Shamrock theme song deserves mention here, as it finds a way to burrow into the viewers head like the best of ear-worms, and lends credence to the mind control/subliminal message plot that is in motion. Set to the tune of the handily public domain song “London Bridge is Falling Down”, it takes only the briefest snatch of the song to take hold somewhere deep in the pysche of the viewer, and does not fail to make the viewers uncomfortable.

One of the coolest additions to this release is the documentary Stand Alone, featuring recent interviews with earnest director Tommy Lee Wallace. After over thirty years of criticism and being forced to defend his film, it is nice to see the cult following it developed and Wallace to finally get his props for some unbelievably bold film-making.

Ultimately, Halloween 3 inhabits a strange kind of bizarro place in the canon of the series. The red-headed stepchild of the series, abused for years, that finally reveals itself to be better and more useful than anyone ever realized. If only the minds of horror fans in the early 80s had been open to new and unique concepts, we would have been spared years of repetitive sequels in favor of something new and different to look forward to each year.
More on that tomorrow, but in the meantime…

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Nine more days till… Halloween II (1981)

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I will say that what got me through writing that script was… Budweiser. Six pack of beer a night, sitting in front of the typewriter saying, “What in the hell can I put down?” I had no idea. We’re remaking the same film, only not as good.

- John Carpenter, on writing the script for Halloween II

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Three years after the original Halloween had become the biggest grossing independent film of all time and inspired dozens of cheap imitations, a follow-up appeared in theaters continuing the struggle of good vs. evil. Although the first film is obviously a complete work of art, the audience and especially the producers who had profited so greatly were clamoring for more.
Picking up just minutes after the end of the first film, Halloween II suffers from the simple fact that sometimes “more” is just too much. After retooling the original for television with new sequences that hint at the connections between The Shape and his “Final Girl”, this sequel introduces the idea that the two are in fact related, and gives the unkillable stalker a vague motive, for the first time letting on that Michael’s ultimate goal (for some still unknown reason) is to kill his whole family.
This new development is the first (of many) wrong steps that filmmakers made in demystifying the character of “The Shape”. Although as time and the subsequent sequels will prove, this film adds that plot point while planting more seeds of mystery to the origin and story of Michael Myers. The script drops hints that will get picked up and retooled later in the series, but here they are more misdirection and an attempt to recapture that unknowable feeling of an unstoppable killing machine at the same time they are humanizing him. It doesn’t really work, nor does it fail as miserably as some of the later entries.

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After her horrifying ordeal, we meet up with Laurie that night at the hospital (three years older and wearing a wig to make her look the teenage part), as she goes in and out of a comatose state. Apparently, Jamie Lee Curtis was not exactly thrilled to reprise the role that had made her into the first of a new generation of “scream queens”, but came back out of loyalty to John Carpenter.
Carpenter, however, seemed to be taking the film less seriously and his interviews looking back on his work for the film are pretty amusing. It is easy to forget that he was not a household horror name at the time, and had many promising projects in the works at the time. For example, in between the time of the first and second Halloween films, Carpenter had directed The Fog and Escape From New York, and he was prepping to shoot what many consider his greatest achievement, The Thing. So it is hard to blame him for passing on the director job for the highly anticipated sequel, and pretty funny to think of him drinking beer and trying to come up with someone for Michael Myers to murder. As he puts it in an interview, “Hey I’m a capitalist. If they want to pay me, I will do the work.”

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Another familiar face back to rant for his paycheck, Donald Pleasance returns to the role of Dr. Loomis once again, and attempts to track his charge and scare the shit out of everyone with his cryptic ramblings. A freak accident (that no one seems too concerned about) concerning a speeding police car slamming into an innocent trick or treater, leads Loomis and the police to believe Michael is dead. But the determined Loomis knows better, and follows the trail, finding clues that vaguely connect his charge to occult business.

While Laurie whines and flirts with the orderly in the hospital, the real Michael is coming at her with the same conviction as ever. Although this time around, The Shape is played by stunt coordinator Dick Warlock (best name ever), he is as unstoppable as before, tracking his victim (who Loomis and the audience finally learns is Michael’s sister) all the way to the hospital.

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Although Carpenter turned down the directing job, he hand picked director Rick Rosenthal for the job. Rosenthal treats the material respectfully, and tries his best to mimic Carpenter’s style from the original, but as the writer himself concedes, this is lesser material. Carpenter claims he was pressured to add more gore and grue to the film in post production, saying that the rough cut he saw was “about as scary as Quincy”. Carpenter actually was brought in during post-production and oversaw some new inserts into Rosenthal’s cut, adding a scene where Michael knifes a girl before heading to the hospital, along with some amped-up blood during the kills. Rosenthal, on the other hand, didn’t care for the changes, and contends that the post-shoot meddling “ruined his carefully paced film”.

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Overall, Halloween II is a good continuation of a story that didn’t necessarily need continuing. This is a sequel from a time when sequels were not what we now know them to be, but this one set another precedent that has been aped for years now. If John Carpenter would have had his way, the story of Michael Myers would have ended here, in fire, and we would have had new Halloween-themed original films for the past 35 years or so. The decision to end it once and for all was Carpenter’s, as his script called for Michael’s eyes to get shot out and he is burned to death along with his pursuer in the climactic sequence. In a 1982 interview, Carpenter said matter-of-factly, “The Shape is dead. Pleasence’s character is dead, too, unfortunately.”

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This new Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical version of the film and a television edit for NBC, which removes much of the added gore and cuts in more expository scenes, one which shows The Shape cutting the power to the facility, and also boasts an alternate “happy” ending, if anybody wondered what happened to Jimmy the orderly in the original cut. My only gripe is that there is not an option to watch the added scenes outside of the TV cut, but it is nice to have everything included here. Deleted scenes, new commentaries, a return to the original shooting locations and an extensive making of featurette round out this release.


Ten more days till… Halloween (1978)

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“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.”

- - Dr. Sam Loomis (Halloween 1978)

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In order to celebrate every horror fans favorite time of year along with last month’s long awaited release of the entire collection of Halloween films on Blu-ray, we have decided to take a look back at each of these iconic films as the titular holiday draws closer.
The new box set is available here, and includes every film in the series (yes, even the Rob Zombie ones…) and a huge collection of special features, interviews and documentaries, and is a great addition to any collection.

Called several times the “Gone With The Wind” of modern horror films, John Carpenter’s 1978 original is a true genre classic. Ushering in the new wave of slasher and horror films of the early 1980s, the original Halloween is a perfect storm of creativity, simplicity and ingenuity that has yet to be replicated by any of the copycats or subsequent sequels.
A true passion project for the young filmmaker, Carpenter and his then-girlfriend Debra Hill were aiming to make the scariest film since “The Exorcist” and arguably succeeded.
After making some waves overseas with “Assault on Precinct 13“, their passion and determination for the project caught the eye of producer Moustapha Akkad, and he called John Carpenter’s bluff and agreed to finance the film for the amount of $320,000.

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With the only imperative from the producers being to make the lead characters babysitters for the sake of relatability, Carpenter and Hill wrote the script in three weeks. Hill claims to have shaped the personalities and friendships of the lead trio of girls, while Carpenter’s writing covered the excitable rants of Dr. Loomis, the “Ahab” character played by veteran actor Donald Pleasence. An interesting casting note is that Carpenter initially wanted both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for the Loomis role, but gladly accepted the acting chops that Pleasence brought to the table for what would become his 105th film appearance and a recurring role for the next two decades. Lee claims one of his biggest regrets to be turning down the role of Loomis.

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In one of the older featurettes included on this release, John Carpenter talks about how incredibly intimidating it was to recruit Donald Pleasence, and directing him as this admittedly melodramatic character. He recounts the story of Pleasence “testing” the young director constantly, questioning the motivations of the good doctor. Ultimately, Pleasence fully embraced the role, and despite the giddy geek feelings a horror fan might get picturing Christopher Lee as Loomis, he completely owns it. Donald Pleasence was once quoted as saying he was going to keep making Halloween films up to 22, when asked why he keeps reprising the role.

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Another key to what makes the film work so well is the perfect casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, in her first ever lead film role. Despite being the famous progeny of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh (of Psycho fame), Jamie had only had a single acting job up to this point, the short-lived TV adaptation of Petticoat Junction, where she starred alongside Jim Varney, who would go on to annoy the world as Ernest P. Worrell. Her innocence and relatable characteristics go a long way toward making the story work, and she lives and breathes the realistic and timely dialogue penned by Debra Hill.  Her sweet demeanor and tenacity when confronted with violence have since become the prototype for the virginal “final girl”, a now omnipresent part of the legacy of horror in film.

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While the script has no shortage of loving tributes to the horror films of the past, his role as director of the film is where Carpenter has the chance to shine as an artist, shaping his influences into something new that would go on to influence countless future filmmakers.
From the opening scene, largely borrowed from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas from the year before, the first person point of view throws audiences off guard, and the slow building tension becomes unbearable as the film builds to the inevitable climax. Interestingly, in one of the special features documentaries, Carpenter says that the film didn’t work at all without the now unforgettable music. He claims to have scored the entire film in three days, and it is hard to argue the severe tension the minimalist score brings to the final film.

Of course, Carpenter was wise enough to know that atmosphere and tension were just as important as the kills, and the film gets it right by leaving a lot to the imagination, a principle that was steadily forgotten (and arguably rebelled against) by the films that followed. The original concept of “The Shape” was a force of nature, a mysterious and unstoppable killing machine. The fact that in the original the killer had no clear motivation was much scarier than the over-explained versions of the same character which came later. Originally, Michael Myers was a shark in a latex mask, and that was what made this film work so well. Laurie and her friends (and the audience) didn’t even have a chance to wonder why, they simply had to accept his existence and deal with it.

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An interesting addition to this release is the presence of the TV version of the original film. When NBC bought the rights to the film, several scenes of nudity had to be trimmed and the studio needed an additional few minutes added to the run time. New scenes were added to the telefilm, which premiered the same day the sequel arrived in theaters, October 30, 1981. The scenes show some further bonding between Laurie and Lynda,  and include an intriguing scene between Loomis and young catatonic Michael. Even all those years before, Loomis was arguing for tighter security! Also notable is an added scene where Loomis investigates Michael’s room after his escape to see the word “sister” scrawled on the door. This was intended to plant the seeds of the newly revealed familial connections introduced in the sequel.

Other special features on the disc include a recent revisit to the original shooting locations in Pasadena California, new audio commentaries with director of photography Dean Cundey, producer Tommy Lee Wallace and the first portrayer of “The Shape”, Nick Castle.
Also included is a longish documentary from HorrorHound from 2012, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis in her first and last convention appearance, signing Halloween memorabilia and generously mingling with horror fans for charity.

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Overall, Halloween remains not only a horror classic, but simply a great film, and it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Check back in tomorrow when we take a look at the 1981 sequel from director Rick Rosenthal!


ABCs of Death 2 is the horror anthology we have been waiting for!

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The first ABCs of Death anthology in 2012 was a great idea. Gather 26 horror directors and give them each complete creative freedom to create a gruesome film based on a letter of the alphabet. A concept so strong that it could only go wrong if the directors go wrong. And a great way to hedge bets, because chances are pretty good that you will find something to your taste hidden in the grab bag.
That being said, I wasn’t all that in love with the first in the series, but have been looking forward to the sequel quite a bit. Not only did they announce a slew of great directors for the sophomore effort, but the producers went an  extra step and offered up the letter M for the taking in a very cool contest held around this time last year.
In fact, the contest was a great success, and many directors (professional and amateur) produced M-centric shorts for hopeful inclusion in the new film. A unique way to involve the tight-knit horror community we all know and love.

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I am glad to report to you that the new collection of deathly letters is far more successful than the first outing, for me at least. While the first film was fun, gross and baffling at times, nothing really excited me or stuck with me personally.
Happily, this is not the case with the sequel.
In fact, the new collection delivers many more hits than misses, and brings some new talented names to the forefront of the horror director watch list.

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Things start off with a bang after a unique animated title sequence, with E.L Katz’s “A is for Amateur”. This short kicks of the collection with some gratuitous sex, drugs and techno music, and tells the darkly ironic tale of a hitman gone wrong.

Followed by “B is for Badger”, directed by Julian Barratt, we begin to see just how weird these film-makers are willing to go. This one is a very dry and funny story of a documentary crew with a domineering subject that takes a gruesome twist.

“C is for Capital Punishment”, from director Julian Gilby, is a dark tale of mistaken justice, and features one of the nastiest executions I have ever seen. This one was gruesome and unexpected.

“D is for Deloused” switches it up quickly with a grotesque stop-motion short from director Robert Morgan. Hypnotic and stylistically reminiscent of the work of the Quay brothers and Jan Svankmejer. Dirty and beautiful, this one made me squirm.

“E is for Equilibrium” from Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead, is a very funny dialogue-free twist on the story of survivors stranded on an island. A light-hearted and amusing entry with at least one big shock.

“F is for Falling” from Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (who were responsible for Big Bad Wolves earlier this year) slows the pace quite a bit with this story of an Israeli soldier stuck in a tree. Not my favorite.

“G is for Granddad” brings the weirdness back up to 11 in this strange story of disparate roomies. Written and directed by Jim Hosking, this one has style and comic timing and one of the most WTF endings yet. Loved it.

“H is for Head Games” brings us something new and strange from amazing animator Bill Plympton. Anyone who remembers the weird animated segues from MTV back in the early 90s will instantly recognize the style here. A favorite.

“I is for Invincible” from director Erik Matti is another unique entry, telling the quick and mean story of a greedy family waiting around for their cursed matriarch to pass on so that they may divide up her wealth. The trouble is that she wont seem to die, no matter how they hack and tear at here. This one was awesome!

“J is for Jesus”, directed by Dennison Ramalho, takes a more serious tone, tackling religious zealotry and violent homophobia in his allotted time. Some great monster effects and surreal sequences made this one work well.

“K is for Knell”, from directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, is one of the few shorts that didn’t really grab me. Some cool cosmic effects and strange happenings, but I guess I just didn’t get it. It sure does look pretty though.

“L is for Legacy” from Lancelot Imasuen, however, tears into his few minutes with a story of a strange curse in a tribal setting. A few of the effects are a little cheap-looking, but the monster is bad ass, and the short is a few minutes of welcome chaos following the previous entry.

“M is for Masticate” is the winner of the contest mentioned earlier, coming to us from director Robert Boocheck. Essentially a few minutes of a slow motion fat man on a rampage followed by a cheap Bath Salts joke, it is really baffling to me how this one was the winner.

“N is for Nexus” from genre staple Larry Fessenden picks the ball back up where it was dropped with a fast paced and stylish short about an inevitable afternoon meeting. Set in New York on Halloween, it is tense and creepy all the way up to its crazy climax. Loved it.

“O is for Olocracy (Mob Rule)” is another unique short that actually attempts to build a world and characters in the short time allotted. Directed by Hajime Ohata, it tells the twisted story of a world where zombies have found a cure and are putting the humans on trial for the things they did in the name of survival. A unique take on a tired subject.

“P is for P-P-P-P-Scary” from Todd Rohal is an old-timey cartoonish farce that quickly descends into a surrealist nightmare. Some good old slapstick weirdness that hits the sweet spot.

“Q is for Questionare” from director Rodney Ascher, who brought us the iffy documentary Room 237, is a kind of cheap-looking but fun short. Some weird camera angles and gory operation scenes almost get us to ignore the guy in the monkey suit.

“R is for Roulette”
from Marvin Kren, director of Rammbock and Blood Glacier, is a slow and tense black and white game of wits right up until the end, which only left me wanting more. This one was unique with a great punchline.

“S is for Split”
from director Juan Martinez Moreno is about as tense as it gets. Utilizing several alternating split screens as the story of a home invasion goes wrong, this one is dark and unapologetic and awesome.

“T is for Torture Porn”
from the Soska Sisters really takes a wild left turn in this short about a young woman being berated on what appears to be a porn set. Tristan Risk rises up and turns the tables on the bullies in a tentacle-filled technicolor climax that is sure to please all the voyeurs out there.

“U is for Utopia”
from Vincenzo Natali is a cool futuristic look at the concept of perfection and the fate of those who seek it. An interesting idea with a creepy closing, from the guy who brought us Splice and Cube.

“V is for Vacation”
directed by Jerome Sable is a mean and dark descent into violence and misogyny as two bros on vacation prove they have chosen the wrong escorts. The chaos descends as a facetime call turns out to be untimely and damning.

“W is for Wish”
is one for all of us 80s babies who ever wished they could enter the fantasy world promised in the toy commercials of the decade. Directed by Steven Kostanski, the maniac responsible for Manborg and Father’s Day, this one is gloriously weird and a great reminder to be careful what you wish for.

“X is for Xylophone”
seems like the obvious choice for the letter X, but Inside directors Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo bring a dark and cruel spin on the instrument with their dialogue-free entry. Great sound design makes this one gruesome and effective.

“Y is for Youth”
pushes the weirdness to the absolute limits as director Soichi Umezawa lets a young girl’s inner thoughts come to life as people regurgitate guitars and battle giant hamburgers and penises. An awesome fever dream.

“Z is for Zygote”
is unexpectedly my favorite of the whole film. Written and directed by Chris Nash, this strange and atmospheric tale begins with a man and his pregnant wife in an isolated cabin. He tells her if she keeps eating a mysterious root, everything will be fine and he leaves. Thirteen years later, we see the poor woman with a giant tumorous stomach containing a full-grown child who speaks. An odd and off-putting situation, which only gets worse when she finds that the root has run out and her child will be born one way or the other. One of the grossest, most ingenious films I have ever seen, this one really put the cherry on top for me.

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Don’t forget to stick around after the credits for a special appearance from one of modern horror’s most deviant degenerates!
Check out the trailer below and be sure and rent ABCs of Death 2 on demand right now, and check your local listings for the limited theatrical release this Halloween!




Revelation Trail – An independent zombie western that delivers!

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It is a strange transitioning time in the world of film that we all know and love. With so many new avenues of distribution, crowd-funding, streaming and downloading changing not only the way we watch movies, but how they are made and delivered to us as well. Some people fear that the big budget juggernauts will destroy the efforts of the little guys, and that shift is not far off.
And in this shaky entertainment environment, it is a great thing to see a truly independent film hold its own. Revelation Trail is a film that has followed it’s own rocky path for over six years now, as a passion project for director John Gibson and the crowd of supporters and help that he found along the way.
The film had the support of a successful Kickstarter fund a few years back and garnered the support of hundreds of people across the country who helped create the reality of the film. They shot the film in just twenty days, everyone kicking in to do their part to make the epic story of undead in the west come to life. They slept in garages, made brains out of ham slices, transformed vacuum cleaners into guns and turned their backyards into countryside vistas.
With the generous help of volunteers and reenactors across Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio, the film’s crew managed to get the film shot and it is now ready for consumption for us, the horror fans!

Digital Cover Art by Blake Armstrong

Revelation Trail tells the story of a man known only as The Preacher, starting off “somewhere in 1882″ as he tells the tale from a scarred future.
The scene is set beautifully as some ruffians arrive at the preacher’s home one late night, looking for shelter. He generously allows them to shack up in his barn, as he sets in for the night to protect his lovely young wife and child.
A sudden zombie outbreak erupts and the Preacher is forced to leave his hometown behind as it is quickly overcome by the hordes of the undead. He joins forces with the town’s Marshal and the two embark on an uneasy quest for survival.
This framework provides the perfect opportunity for the meat of the film, which turns out to be a complicated character study of two diverse individuals facing the unknown in their own unique ways.
The sudden zombie apocalypse has no explanation of course, and the unlikely duo struggle against both the undead and themselves. For example, the Preacher insists on burying and “delivering” each of the recently twice-dead, as the Marshal prefers to look on and sip from his flask.

Daniel Van Thomas as the Preacher and Daniel Britt as Marshal Edwards

In the time between the conception of this unique idea back in 2006 until its recent completion, we horror fans have seen nearly every conceivable take on the “zombie story”, with the rare exception of the Zombie Western. I will even admit to feeling a bit of zombie fatigue lately, as many of these recent films have been tired rehashes of things we have seen many times before.
That is the genius of Revelation Trail. The zombies are secondary to the characters and their own reactions to the insane new reality that they find themselves in.
And these are some great characters, played perfectly by Daniel Van Thomas and Daniel Britt ans The Preacher and The Marshal, respectively. Their antithetic banter is the key to everything that works in the film, and really transcend the homemade aesthetics at times.

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The practical effects really get the job done, however, when we get to see the descending hordes of undead, particularly later in the film. The atmosphere is tense and the zombies look great and there is something really haunting about blood-soaked prairie girls. The practical effects are convincing and really amazing considering the wardrobe department dressed the extras for about four dollars each, thanks to local thrift shops.
When our pair reaches a well-protected fort late in the film, it is hard to believe that the period-accurate set was constructed by volunteers in two weeks time, mostly from discarded barn wood!

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Overall, Revelation Trail is great proof that the independent spirit is still very much alive and well in the world of horror films. A very entertaining film made from the blood sweat and tears of a few passionate individuals with a great idea.
Visit the official Facebook page for the film for more news and information, and also their Youtube channel which features several short films expanding on the story.
Check out the trailer for Revelation Trail below and find the film on DVD from Entertainment One, available now!

Promotional Poster by Blake Armstrong


Doctor Mordrid : Master of the Unknown on Blu-Ray!

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I have to be honest. I had never heard of this film until it found it’s way into my P O Box thanks to the good people at Full Moon Studios. But just looking at the Blu-Ray cover made me giddy.
An early 90s fantasy horror flick starring Jeffrey Combs? Sold.

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It turns out that Doctor Mordrid is everything you would expect from that cover above, plus a little more. Directed by Full Moon’s ubiquitous overlord Charles Band teaming up with his father Albert Band, Doctor Mordrid is a project that was meant for other things before taking shape as the fun film it is.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, Marvel comics was not the entertainment force it is today and the thought of quality superhero movies on the big screen was insane. Doctor Mordrid began life as an adaptation of Marvel’s Dr. Strange, and Charles Band was developing the film when the rights were lost. So he changed a few names, added some boobies and a particularly vulgar character and had an all new film starring Jeffrey Combs as a confident wizard destined to protect Earth from an “unspeakable evil”.

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Despite some of the sillier elements inherent in this pre-CGI fantasy flick, it turns out to be pretty damned entertaining. I have to admit that a certain amount of the pleasure I took from it was watching Jeffrey Combs keep a straight face. But the sets are extravagant and fanciful, filled with cool touches like the good doctor’s faithful companion, a raven named Edgar.

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So the story goes that the evil sorcerer known as Kabal is seeking a collection of mysterious elements that will allow him to open the portal to Hell and unleash his minions to wreak havoc upon the earth. Dr. Mordrid is Earth’s only defender against this threat and of course is misunderstood and impeded by the ones he is trying to protect. The only one on his side is charismatic young police consultant Samantha Hunt, and the two team up to stop Kabal as he makes his moves toward world domination.

 

tumblr_m6vefq4Enh1qieyxio1_250tumblr_m6vefq4Enh1qieyxio2_250tumblr_m6vefq4Enh1qieyxio3_250It all leads to an awesome final battle inside the Cosmopolitan Museum, featuring stop-motion dinosaur fossils. Yeah, that is just as awesome and nostalgic as it sounds, and the film ends with the promise of a sequel, which unfortunately never happened.

tumblr_mk6ki49wPp1r3d7d2o1_1280The new Blu-Ray release is stuffed with special features, including a commentary with Jeffrey Combs and Charles Band, a walk-through of how they shot the dinosaur scene, some candid and flirtatious interviews with Jeffrey Combs and Yvette Nipar (Samantha Hunt), and one really awkward and entertaining inclusion of an interview between Combs, William Shatner (!), Barbara Crampton, and Stuart Gordon (director of Re-Animator).

This movie works for me in the way all of those late 80s/early 90s B flicks always did for me, and it is really cool to see one now that I missed as a kid. So I am giving it a +1 for nostalgia. Overall, Doctor Mordrid is a really fun, weird flick and definitely recommended.
Find it for sale on Amazon here, or visit Full Moon and sign up for their unique Streaming service for all kinds of cool stuff!

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Review of Kevin Smith’s Tusk : A Truly Transformative Tale

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I have to be honest here. I was predisposed to love this movie.
There are a number of reasons why, and I suppose you can take this review with a grain of salt, since I am admitting freely that I simply love the fact that this film even exists. It is a miracle of independent film-making that a movie about a deranged man transforming someone into a walrus is in my local theater, screening happily alongside the summer blockbusters.

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Kevin Smith has long been one of my favorite directors, if only for the fact that since debuting with Clerks in 1994, he has consistently followed his own path. After making a series of great stoner comedies throughout the 90s, Smith seemed to lose his way in the early part of the 2000s. After an embarrassing attempt at a big budget buddy cop flick left him (and audiences) feeling empty, Smith was set to retire from film-making altogether. Then he took up a new hobby of smoking large quantities of high quality marijuana, and realized that he could and should be making the movies that he wanted to see.
Lucky for us, most of these ideas are deranged and tinged with horror. After impressively changing gears a few years back with the quick and dirty flick Red State, Smith subsequently lined up a whole roster of films he would love to create.
In fact, following Tusk, he has several other films and ideas in various stages of production, including a Krampus anthology and something he described as “Jaws with a moose.”
It is as if he is aiming to be the Roger Corman of the new millennium.

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The simple fact that this idea went from an odd joke on one of Smith’s podcasts into a feature film in a little over a year should be incredibly inspiring to anyone who struggles with creativity. If you listen to the podcast, it sounds like a couple of friends sitting around the table talking shit and having some good laughs. The fact that they followed through with this crazy idea should be an inspiration to us all.

Another thing that makes this film unique is the fact that it is the first film to ever have an officially licensed marijuana tie-in. That’s right, here in the great state of California, Smith partnered with a very classy medical marijuana dispensary called Buds and Roses to produce two strains of herb to promote the film. The sativa strain was named “White Walrus” and the indica labeled as “Mr. Tusk”, and were available in limited quantities. I managed to get my hands on a gram of the White Walrus last night before the show, and it even came with a handy Tusk grinder!

Okay, so what about the movie.
After we fired up the White Walrus, a gimmick equatable to putting on the 3D glasses before the new Spider-Man flick, everyone in my group was feeling happy and excited to watch the Walrus movie.
Justin Long plays a slightly mean-spirited podcaster from Los Angeles named Wallace, who takes a trip to the frozen tundra of Canada to further humiliate a young man who has accidentally cut off his own leg in front of the whole wide internet. When it turns out this subject is unavailable he follows a trail that leads him to another eccentric weirdo, Howard Howe, played by the hypnotic Michael Parks.
The first third of the movie works in the atmospheric old school tradition of the classic Hammer films, as the two share drinks and swap stories in Howe’s creepy old mansion. The tension built up here is great, and Michael Parks could mesmerize anyone by simply reading his grocery list, but let’s face it, we all know that Long is going to end up as a walrus.
I mean, that is the spectacle we came to see.

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And that is the main problem with the film. It’s scope is very limited, and there is only so much of the preposterous transformation that can be shown, so we get bogged down with sub-plots and offbeat characters to fill out the running time.
Especially a certain uncredited actor who has made a career playing “offbeat characters” who gets the spotlight for an inordinate amount of time right in the middle of the film, grinding it to a halt. Take away the sub-plot about Wallace’s girlfriend and best friend desperately tracking him down and the mumbling presence of bounty hunter Guy Lapointe, and audiences are left with only a few scenes of the good old gory walrus action we all came to see.
To be fair, those scenes are fantastic, and the sight of Long going “full walrus” is an image that will surely be burnt into the consciousness of audiences everywhere. The effects by Robert Kurtzman are grotesque and hilarious at the same time, and the punchline at the end of the film is worth the whole journey.

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Over all, Tusk is a bizarre addition to the filmography of Kevin Smith, and a unique horror comedy. The film is not perfect, but it is definitely worth a watch. Get out to your local theater this weekend and support this kind of insanity at the movies! We need more madness at the multiplex, so help prove to the powers that be that there is an audience for experimental independent films made by stoned weirdos.

Chase every dopey dream you ever have, so long as it doesn’t involve hurting or killing anybody.”
- Kevin Smith

#WalrusYes

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Doomsday is coming. What are you going to wear?

Netflix Roulette : The Den (2013)

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While watching this film on a whim last night on Netflix, it gave me the idea to start a new column here on Horror homework. Most of us use Netflix streaming by now, and I always get requests for recommendations for worthwhile streaming flicks on the service.
And I scroll through the endless choices as most of you probably do, waiting for something that stands out or really grabs my attention.
Last night, instead of 45 minutes of scrolling, I just pulled the fuckin trigger and took what they gave me. If you guys are interested, I think I will try and make this a regular column.

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It turns out that The Den is a film with an interesting premise utilizing all the modern technology and gadgets that we can’t live without, well-executed in a stylish manner. The film tells the story of Elizabeth, a young twenty-something journalist who proposes a study project immersing herself in the culture of a huge social website. The Den is something similar to chat roulette and omegle, where anyone can get connected to random people all around the world to befriend, chat with, shown their boobs to, whatever they choose.
Much of the film’s running time is seen through the lens of Elizabeth’s webcam, making this the next evolution of a found footage flick. I know that many horror fans are sick of found footage films, but I personally enjoy them when they are done well (see Willow Creek!). This unique incarnation of the technique works very well, especially considering that the story line requires her to constantly be staring into the camera.

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The likeable character of Elizabeth (actress Melanie Papalia) helps to quickly connect the audience with the world of the film by plugging us right in to her daily life. It doesn’t take long for the dark corners of the internet to rear their ugly heads, and the creepiest part of the film to me was that unmoving avatar staring right into the camera, when Elizabeth has the misfortune of crossing paths with of The Den‘s users known as pyagrl*16.

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Before long, this mysterious user infiltrates Elizabeth’s real life by hacking into her computer and manipulating her whole world easily through her myriad of gadgets. We never hear her tormentor speak, in fact we only know him through the rough texts and horrific videos he tortures her with. Before long, everything escalates and the police can’t do anything to help her as the film reveals itself to actually be a creative spin on the slasher genre.

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One by one, Elizabeth’s real life friends get targeted by this madman who finally reveals himself wearing a very creepy dead-eyed sack mask, but still never speaks. The kills are gruesome, although the found footage aspect of the film becomes questionable and a little shaky in the later scenes.  Some really gory effects and close up shots of the cuts and other methods of torture are executed perfectly and really make your toes curl up!

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The directorial debut of Russian director Zachary Donohue, The Den turns out to be a very creepy statement on our current obsessions with constantly being connected, and preys on modern fears of how safe the internet really is. The final scenes of the film say a lot about our culture of voyeurism, and ultimately the film manages to get under the viewer’s skin and stay there.
I really enjoyed it.
The Den is recommended for all of you Netflix streamers out there, and can also be found for sale on DVD here. It is eerily effective for those of us addicted to cyberspace, and particularly haunting to watch in the dark on your computer when you are home alone.
Let me know in the comments if you guys would be interested in more of these “Netflix Roulette” posts.



Doomsday is coming. What are you going to wear?

Book Review : The Dreadful Death Of Edgar Switchblade

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Best known as one half of the incredible Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards, singer/songwriter Lonesome Wyatt has proven to have many more tricks up his sleeve. In addition to his distinctly desperate howling on the many TPB albums, he has his own band known as The Holy Spooks which bring a creepy edge to his songs of desperation. A fantastic duet album with alt-country goddess Rachel Brooke released in 2009 showed us a slightly lighter shade of his consistent dark side. And now, along with his prolific musical output, he has added the title of accomplished author to his resume, with his new novel The Dreadful Death of Edgar Switchblade.

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A follow-up to 2012’s introduction to the colorful character, The Terrible Tale of Edgar Switchblade, the new book is a fast-paced violent trip into the warped mind of our pal, Mr. Lonesome.
Edgar Switchblade is a fascinating character; a religiously-obsessed mentally-disturbed cannibalistic bounty hunter born with cloven hooves. With his trusty horse Old Red by his side, who also enjoys quenching his thirst with human blood, and armed only with a deadly switchblade, Edgar wanders the world with the righteous intentions of cleansing the earth of the mad sinners and foul spirits which now plague it.
In the introductory novel, we learned the details of Ol’ Edgar’s strange upbringing, and followed him on a fast-paced first-person western/horror adventure into the darkness of Lonesome Wyatt’s fiercely imagined world.

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In the new book, written with the same distinct quick and dirty intensity of the first volume, we catch up with Edgar and Old Red right in the middle of a gruesome zombie apocalypse. Edgar dispatches the undead masses with gory glee and moves on to meet the man who commissioned his services, a mysterious character known as Reverend Hitchcock.
After taking some time to warm up to the Reverend, the trio finally join forces to embark on a holy mission to destroy an ancient demon wizard. Bizarre characters and uniquely chaotic scenes bring about the titular “death” of our heroes, but it takes a lot more than the notion of leaving his earthly body to stop Ol’ Edgar.
The writing is the star of the show, as Mr. Wyatt somehow manages to make the gruesome deeds and thoughts of Edgar Switchblade seem downright charming. He can slish and slash at the undead hordes until his trusty horse gets his fill, all in the name of his godly conviction. The turns of phrase are unique and convincing, as well-defined as any character in recent memory.
These twisted tales are not for everyone’s taste, for sure. They are violent and irreverent, and at times shockingly sacriligious, but all in the name of classic pulp fiction straight from the EC comics mold. Even the design of the thin volumes works to evoke that feeling ; the books themselves appearing wrinkled and tattered and edged with red paper, like something you would find on a magazine rack in a pharmacy decades ago.

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Readers will find themselves rooting for Edgar, even as they are repulsed by his words and deeds. He is the genuine article, a character so convinced of his own motivations that nothing stands in his way. These stories are fast and fun reads for us horror fans, and we can only hope that Mr. Wyatt can keep on spinning these tales for us in the coming years.
I know that I can’t wait to see what kind of horrific misadventures Edgar and Red will get into next.
As Edgar himself says at one point, “I still got so much Godly Violence and Cleansing to perform on this shit smeared world.
Both the books and all of the Lonesome Wyatt and Those Poor Bastards albums are available at the official Tribulation Recording Co. website, including a bonus audio adventure where Edgar teams up with Krampus (!) to teach children the true meaning of Christmas.
Lonesome Wyatt also has a great Facebook page, as does Edgar Switchblade himself!

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Horror Comics at TFAW.com

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